Benjamin Schwarz: Review of Karl Schlögel's "Moscow 1937"

Roundup: Books
tags: Benjamin Schwarz, Karl Schlogel, Moscow 1937, Stalin, purges

Benjamin Schwarz is The Atlantic’s literary editor and national editor.

In this dazzling 650-page feat of historical reconstruction, Karl Schlögel, a professor at the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), has summoned up a great city—what was once the New Jerusalem for much of the world’s intelligentsia and downtrodden—as it consumed itself in an orgy of fear, paranoia, denunciations, mass arrests, suicides, and executions.

Schlögel’s book is a fragmentary yet meticulous social history of Moscow in the grip of the Great Terror—the period from the summer of 1936 to the end of 1938, when the already sanguinary Bolshevik regime let loose on itself its apparatus of suppression, purging, in waves, all Soviet institutions and at all levels of society, from the nomenklatura, the highest echelons of administrative, cultural, and scientific life, through the high command of the Red Army, to the engineers and apparatchiks, down to the factory workers and peasants. It is an almost impossibly rich masterpiece.

In Moscow 1937, Schlögel uses as a leitmotif the themes and settings of Mikhail Bulgakov’s great allegorical 1937 novel of the city under the Terror, The Master and Margarita. He opens with an exegesis of Margarita’s fantastical flight over the city in the 1930s, which allows him to establish the scene and dissect Moscow’s cultural and social geography....

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